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All eyes on Samoa

 
 
(Contributed)

An announcement that China was planning to gain access to dilapidated port facilities in Samoa in the South Pacific, has thrown US-led western allies into panic. 

The US imperialists assess the rapid rise of China as threatening traditional US hegemonic regional standing.
 
 
 
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Prime Minister of Samoa Tuilaepa Malielegaoi in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Nov. 16, 2018.
 
The western allies also fear the ability of China to use 'soft diplomacy' to extend their influence over the region, into areas historically under US-led tutelage.
 
Their considerations, together with mainstream media releases, reveal a great deal about what lies behind political and military decision-making within the corridors of power in Canberra when dealing with sensitive defence and security provision.
 
In late November, an official media release from Canberra focussed on the role of Chinese negotiations to fund a redevelopment program with the dilapidated maritime facilities of Port Asau in Samoa. The release also noted the coral-choked port was situated next to 'an airstrip on Savai'l, the nation's largest island'. (1)
 
The announcement followed disclosures from western intelligence agencies assessing the Asia-Pacific region, 'that China has been scanning the islands for potential bases, including Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea'. (2) The panic stations of US-led western allies about the Chinese diplomatic position toward Samoa followed similar stances toward Vanuatu and PNG: following disclosures China was planning maritime facilities in Vanautu, a flurry of diplomatic attention from Canberra was accompanied by a brief visit of Prince Charles to the Pacific Island in April while visiting Australia for the Commonwealth Games. (3) Following the visit by the acting head of the British Commonwealth the news story went remarkably quiet. Later, however, in the lead-up to the recent APEC Summit in PNG, numerous news stories covered the proposed plan of China to develop a base on Manus Island, which was assessed as bringing, 'the People's Liberation Army Navy uncomfortably close to us'. (4) Western allies quickly sought to rectify the situation by planning their own military facilities at Lombrum on Manus, with a, 'strategically positioned deep-water port at Manus', which had 'a sweeping command of Australia's maritime approaches, while the nearby airport could also be used for surveillance flights'. (5) 
 
Once again, following the official media releases covering US-led military planning for the region, the story about China's role in PNG went very quiet.
 
Then the Samoa story broke, and with little ambiguity, it was stated that: “China's involvement has raised red flags with military analysts who warned the port could lead to a landmass right through the heart of America's defences in the South Pacific or threaten Australia's east-coast trade routes to the US”. (6)
 
It was also noted, that the proposed redevelopment plan for the port, had “major economic and strategic implications for Australia and the US in the South Pacific”. (7)  
       
Samoans, who hardly possess the status of major players in Pacific Islands politics, must indeed wonder what all the fuss is about. The country, which gained independence in 1961, took a further fifteen years before even being admitted to the United Nations. While its main economic links lie with both Australia and New Zealand, the country has the status of being a Pacific backwater. They have also, like most other Pacific Islanders, lived alongside people of Chinese descent for centuries.
 
Behind the terse nature of the assessment, however, lies the very real concern of US-led western allies that the rapid rise of China has already altered the balance of forces and challenged US imperialist control of the region. China, with relative ease, for example, successfully dislodged Japan as the world's second biggest economy. It now looks likely to topple the US by the middle of the next decade. Attempts by the US to contain and encircle China in the Asia-Pacific region and further afield have not been particularly successful.
 
While the US has now fully implemented their regional triangular diplomatic framework with Japan as a fully-fledged northern hub for 'US interests' with Australia as a southern counterpart, Chinese diplomacy across the region has been spectacularly successful. The diplomacy has been based on ventures regarded as mutually beneficial, marked by a softer approach pursued amongst equals.
It is important to note how Pacific Islanders themselves view developments and shifting allegiances. An official diplomatic position adopted by Fiji, for example, has noted that 'China's success has been because of its resistance to become like the west'. (8) It was further noted, that shifting allegiances had already taken place, and, 'there has been a major shift in the tectonic plate in the sense that Pacific nations have developed stronger links with China'. (9)
 
Chinese diplomacy within the region was also noted as containing, 'ethical values that contrast with western liberal models', and were the outcome of a 'home grown development model'. (10)
 
Another criticism of western diplomacy toward the Pacific, from Patrick Kaiku, of the University of PNG, has noted that 'Australia conveys a patronising image of the Pacific when citing the China threat and that condescending rhetoric will push Pacific political elites toward China'. (11)
 
Economic and developmental considerations have, however, military implications for US-led western allies, particularly in the case of Samoa. It was noted by a former US diplomat and retired marine Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow based at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, for example, that in the case of Samoa, 'the port type access for China could lead to a salient right through the heart of the US, Japanese and Australian defences', as concerns arose about 'getting in behind the American, Japanese and Australian defence'. (12) Samoa, placed way down in the southern part of the South Pacific has, nevertheless, been assessed by military officials as 'a strategic foothold in the Pacific'. (13)
 
While the diplomatic manoeuvring over the Samoa issue continues to concern Canberra it is important to note while Australia seeks to  remain a “Mother Country” for the Pacific, its total trade relations with the region amount to only 1.3 per cent of our total trade. And more than half of that total is allocated to PNG. (14)
 
Australian relations with the Pacific islands have usually been based in minimal aid allocations with regional military planning relying upon the host countries concerned and Canberra’s defence budgets. Very little sustainable development has taken place, with a lack of careful investment planning to facilitate meaningful economic growth with capital and labour. Many of the countries have relied upon Australian-based mining companies for mineral extraction as the basis of their economies.
 
Australia, for decades, has also taken a declining role in the region; the support of governments was taken for granted, little was done in return. The old saying, the chickens have come home to roost, has a certain ring about it when looking at Australian-Pacific diplomacy.
Decision-makers within the corridors of power in Canberra, formulating policy at the behest of the Pentagon, would now appear greatly concerned about previous complacency particularly when dealing with proposed Chinese port facilities across the Asia-Pacific region. They have conspicuously over-reacted. To what extent the present turmoil taking place inside the ruling Liberal Party with allegations of the organisation being 'taken over by right-wing forces', explains the over-reaction have yet to be established. (15) The Cold War political position of leading figures such as Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, however, may well explain extreme diplomatic positions being adopted toward China, with bureaucrats and administrators merely responding in the manner expected of their ilk.
 
Examples of the behaviour of US-led military planners, and what they regard as the appropriate response to a perceived threat to traditional hegemonic positions, are revealing.
 
In the case of proposed US-led military planning for port facilities on Manus Island, for example, it has been noted in official media releases that 'the move will ensure US and Australian access to the strategically vital deep-water port, which has a sweeping command of Australia's maritime approaches, is big enough to accommodate aircraft carriers, and has anchorage capacity for hundreds of ships'. (16)
The proposed port facilities being redeveloped by China in Samoa, however, have an entrance of 68 metres with a total depth of ten metres; the facilities, therefore, have extremely limited value for rapid deployment of military vessels. (17) Samoa is also placed a long way from possible theatres of war elsewhere in the region. 
 
Australia needs an independent foreign policy to distance ourselves from US-led warmongering!
 
1.     China's Samoa port plan a concern,  Australian, 27 November 2018; see also, China's plan to develop Samoan port a regional security concern, Fiji Times, 28 November 2018.
2.     Pacific Votes For Future, Australian, 22 November 2018.
3.     Prince Philip Movement: Prince Charles visits Vanuatu, where his father has a special past, ABC News, 12 April 2018.
4.     Editorial, Struggle for supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region, Australian, 19 November 2018.
5.     Warning over Manus navy hub, Australian, 20 November 2018.
6.      Australian, op.cit., 27 November 2018.
7.     Fiji Times, op.cit., 28 November 2018.
8.     China's links with Fiji, Fiji Times, 18 May 2018.
9.     Ibid.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 22 November 2018.
12.   Australian, op.cit., 27 November 2018.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Australia needs to show friends in the Pacific we mean business, Australian, 28 November 2018.
15.   Deserter fuels Coalition chaos, Australian, 28 November 2018.
16.   Allies join forces for standoff with China, Australian, 19 November 2018.
17.   Australian, op.cit., 27 November 2018.

 

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